Following (1998)

Untitled-1Little does our writer friend know that he’s being drawn into a dark world of crime and misdirection, far larger than petty burglary, and the people he thinks he can trust no longer have his back.

Nevertheless, I can’t criticise Following too much. It’s the kind of movie I, as a film student, wish I could’ve made. It’s intelligent and succinct, and knowing that Nolan tops it with Memento just a couple of years later actually pardons all its failings. As a debut, it’s wonderful. As part of Nolan’s canon, it’s missing that extra spark. But for all its shortcomings, it’s still a sharply formulated film that succeeds in its purpose.

It follows (no pun intended) a lonely aspiring writer (Jeremy Theobald) who stalks people just for the hell of it, until one day, one of his “victims” (Alex Haw) turns the tables and confronts him. This guy, who calls himself Cobb (go figure), turns out to be a burglar. Fascinated by this profession, the writer accompanies Cobb on a few of his raids. Cobb doesn’t steal material things. He’s not interested in that. He prefers to dig much deeper, deep into the personal lives of the people he’s robbing. He goes through old photographs, drinks their wine, steals their underwear — and sometimes plants underwear — just to shake things up; to make them appreciate the things they take for granted.

But its story is precisely where it lacks. It’s too well hidden behind Nolan’s ever-shifting timeframe. The constant jumps in time may make the narrative more intriguing, but they don’t necessarily make the situations, characters, or consequences more engaging. I found myself feeling rather numb towards The Writer for most of the movie’s duration. Even when he’s played out I never felt engaged enough to offer him my sympathy. Somewhere deep down inside I felt that he deserved what was happening to him. Nolan’s intent? I’m not sure. But it’d be nice to feel something for the people I’m watching on screen, instead of treating them like prisoners on death row.

Filmed on 16mm filmstock, Following is essentially a neo-noir, psychological thriller that aims to outdo the sum of its parts. It aims to confuse us, lead us on the wrong path, and then fit the puzzle together perfectly at the end. It knows that it’s not a big budget Hollywood blockbuster, nor does it have professional actors. It doesn’t have the resume of a professional movie, and so it has to depend on its story and its ingenuity to carry its weight.

Following is without a doubt the precursor to Christopher Nolan’s 2000 masterpiece, Memento; an experiment of sorts. Sure, it’s filmed on no budget whatsoever and it looks more like a well made student film than it does the film of a man who would later revitalize the Batman franchise, but its story, and the way it’s structured, is clearly the stepping stone for Nolan’s second feature. And since most directors only get better as they get older, it seems fitting that Following isn’t as gripping, sharp, or as good as its successor.

There is often an unspoken guideline in moviemaking that encourages filmmakers to not film a complex story in a complex manner. If your story is layered, complicated, has a twist ending, and is generally difficult to follow, shoot it in a simple way, as it is, so as to let the story speak for itself. If it’s a simple story, you might want to mix things up in the way it’s filmed to make it more dynamic. Of course, this isn’t a rule, and thankfully so, otherwise Nolan would be lost. Because it isn’t a rule, Nolan combines the two, and he’s really good at it. Following doesn’t have a simple story, nor is it filmed in a simple manner, yet it all makes sense in the end.

Best Moment | Cobb and The Writer are caught red handed. Cobb pretends to be an interested buyer in order to talk his way out of the house. Once they flee to the roof, his deductions are somewhat amusing. Almost Holmesian.

Worst Moment | Any scene with The Writer and The Blonde. They have no chemistry whatsoever. Although, in the context of the story, they’re not supposed to have any.

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